In the old northern european societies, it was common to use runic symbols and combinations of runes for different magical purposes. Most of the symbols and spells used in the incantations of the bidding of runes, appear to have been for the use of simple daily problems in the life of the common folk. For instance, for catching a thief or to overthrowing an enemy. Others helped heal livestock, whilst others look at cursing the animals of another. It was also common to create charms to help preserve food and ale, staves to bless the bearer with strength or courage, or symbols to help with fishing or prevent death by drowning. The bidding of runes, charms, staves an so on, were also commonly created to protect a person while in battle, to enhance the durability of a shield, the deadly strike of a weapon or the flexibility of a bow.
However, the people in the 17th century in Iceland faced more difficulties in agriculture, herding and hunting and finishing, rather than the troubles of war. With long dark winters, little arable lands for crops, and icy seas, life was unforgiving. Luck seemed to have an important role in that society, and the inhabitants would do what they could to influence their fortunes themselves. In times of famine, neighbours would be tempted to steal from each other, and disputes would often end in violence of course. Reputation and the ability to intimidate seems to have been an important factor in survival, and many staves were created to allow the bearer to do this or cast back negativity upon their perceived attacker. It was a very superstitious time.
As this was an age where Christianity had great influence in the European societies, witchcraft was still used by some but in secrecy, as folk remedies for example. Some practiced these arts more openly, sometimes charging for their services. By using the magical staves, a person felt that they were able to control and influence their predicament without direct confrontation.
The staves appeared to be drawn by using the Norse runes and later mediaeval and renaissance occult symbols. They were at least influenced by later charms used on mainland Europe. Some even appear to be influenced by kabbalistic symbols. During the 17th century in Iceland, it was a time where the christian faith and the old Scandinavian faith was mixed. Icelandic society never forgot their past, their roots and traditions, so some charms that accompany certain staves mention the old Norse gods such as Odin and Thor, whilst others mention Solomon and Christ. The system seems to be an interesting blend of old and new magical beliefs. During the periods of transition between religions, Odin was still appealed to or mentioned, but his role had shifted from being the All-father figure to that of a sorcerer. The Christian God had taken the place of the Father of men on earth, with the Old Gods being pushed into the positions where they were only called upon by the superstitious or “evil magicians”.
Between the 14th and 17th Centuries, it was common to hunted down and tried and punish witches for their sorcerous arts. In most cases these practitioners of the old ways were female. Interestingly enough, unlike mainland Europe, the majority of Icelandic witches that were executed were male; punished by being burned at the stake; women were usually drowned. Like so many other examples of hysteria and bitterness that peaked during such times of persecution, accusations of witchcraft seemed to be a powerful tool to be rid of enemies and improve one’s own situation. One such tale suggests manic superstition, or possibly a personal vendetta against a family.
There is an interesting account that I would like to state:
In 1656 in the town of Kirkjuból (nowadays known as Ísafjörður), a pastor called Jón Magnússon was suffering from ill health and other misfortunes. He accused two members of his congregation of sorcery against him. The accused were father and son, both named Jón Jónsson, who sang in the church choir. After being interrogated, the father confessed to using magic against the pastor and having a book of magic in his possession. Jón Jónsson junior confessed to making the pastor ill, and of using Fretrúner against a girl. The latter was a stave that caused the subject to fart constantly. Far from being a joke, it was intended to humiliate and cause terrible abdominal discomfort. The pair were found guilty and were burned at the stake. Pastor Jón Magnússon was awarded all of the Jónsson’s holdings, but later accused the daughter of Jón Jónsson senior (sister of Jón Jónsson junior) of witchcraft as his ills still continued. Thuridur Jónsdóttir stood trial and was found not guilty. She counter-sued the Pastor and won. As compensation, she was awarded the Pastor’s belongings.
This account may have been an attempt for the pastor to get rid of that family and gain their wealth, but his intentions at the end left him with nothing. Unfortunately it led to the death of two innocent; were they really innocent at all? Some truths may never be known.
Well, back to the subject, folk magic went underground and its practices became hidden. Some records that exist of the staves, their uses and other magical practices of the Icelanders, were made by the courts during the trials of supposedly witches. Ironically, it is this act that has preserved some of the old customs to this day. Without being recorded, they would simply have been forgotten or would have died with their practitioners. But how well were they transcribed? It’s very likely that the true knowledge of such magics has been completely forgotten.
After so much time in secrecy, these magical practices returned. It was only in the last century that it became safer to explore the practices of folk magic throughout Europe. Whilst still frowned upon as superstition and nonsense, the Icelandic staves have seen a surge in popularity. Many of the staves are used in art and decorative wares, whilst some people have taken to having them tattooed onto their bodies. The Icelandic staves have evolved over the centuries, and while certainly incorporating Norse runes, they cannot be considered exclusively of “Viking” culture as they are influenced by other esoteric practices from mainland Europe and beyond.
Note: You can read it in here, with much more detail on this subject –> [Link] By: